Women’s Opression in Arab Women Writers’ Stories Research Paper

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Jun 21st, 2020

Feminist aspirations and concerns are not new to the people of the 21st century; in fact, fighting for women’s rights has been on the agenda of the human race for quite long. However, it would be wrong to claim that the concept of feminism is being shoehorned into the discussion of modern gender roles and relationships between men and women (Paludi, 2012). Al-Saadawi, Al-Uthman, and Al-Zayyat shed some light on the current gender stereotypes, particularly the ones that pertain to women and address the flaws of the present-day image of a woman in contemporary society. Although the three stories in question seem to share only very basic characteristics, such as the fact that each of the short novels are narrated by women, the novels, in fact, nail down the superfluous nature of the stereotypes of women that are popular in the modern society, as well as map the methods of fighting these stereotypes, some allowing for retaining sanguine hope, and some involving indispensable sacrifices. Each story in question makes a powerful statement about oppression distorting women’s lives and depriving women of an opportunity to evolve in both personal and social aspects of their lives.

Narjis, the woman depicted in the novel by Al-Saadawi, is the symbol of what might be viewed at first as a rather shallow problem to analyze. With the topic of the story revolving almost entirely around appearance and the visual representation of women in contemporary society, the novel taps upon a range of complex social issues. In fact, one may argue that the above-mentioned image of women in society is not as vapid a topic as it may seem at first glance. After all, visual information is essential to the process of shaping opinion about a specific phenomenon, concept, or object, and the way in which women are portrayed in contemporary society affects their roles and lives to a considerable extent. To be more specific, in the novel in question, it is not the social prejudice that is interpreted as the key factor contributing to the restriction of women’s freedom, but the fact that women themselves sustain the flaccid and superfluous stereotype defining their family roles and restricting their freedoms: “At that moment, she imagined that she had discovered a new human misfortune: you could see other people’s bodies but not the body in which you were born and which you always carried around” (Al-Saadawi, 2005, p. 60).

The second novel, on the contrary, features the story of the person that used to be a social butterfly, a woman that seems to be going through a midlife crisis and slowly realizing that she needs change urgently. On the one hand, the development that the character is going through does not make her look good; in fact, it makes the narrator look rather ugly, as she is thinking of having an affair seemingly without any obvious reason for it. The narrator even admits that she realizes how unfair towards her husband her behavior is, and, even though at some point she makes it obvious that she has her reasons to doubt him, she still realizes that her urge to experience the thrill that she has never had in her life before will only exacerbate the already deleterious relationships between her and her husband.

Nevertheless, she feels that she needs to cross the line, and, more importantly, she realizes that the gender roles imposed on her and her husband by the society are the reason for this desire to emerge: “But I was a woman who needed a long time to build a bridge between herself and a man, a woman cautious in her choice, who didn’t’ rush into things, who didn’t beg a man” (Al-Uthman, 2005, p. 75). The fact that even the social status of a wife does not make her equal to her husband in terms of the role that she plays in the family, as well as the fact of superiority, which her husband sometimes shows, perhaps, unconsciously, yet relentlessly, makes the woman push the envelope of the social norms and morals, therefore, tasting bitter triumph.

Unlike the character from the above-mentioned novel, Amal, the lead heroine of the third Picture, does not wallow in self-pity, but, instead, reconciles with her past and the change that she is forced to undergo. While on the surface, the character in question seems to face no tangible oppression and both her social and personal lives can be deemed as rather successful, Amal clearly suffers from the inability to undergo the change that she considers essential to her personal development, yet which is unacceptable according to the social standards. The novel in question can be viewed as the logical continuation of the second one; though written by different people, they do seem the pieces of the same puzzle, i.e., the conundrum of the social fetters that women are bound to wear.

The reconciliation with the past and the willingness to embrace the future, which the novel ends with, can be considered the answer to the questions asked in the two novels discussed above: “Amal realized that there was a long road ahead of her” (Al-Zayyat, 2005, p. 72). Despite the air of hopelessness, which the entire atmosphere of the ending is shot through with, as well as the relentlessness of the environment that the lead character lives in, there is a glimpse of hope flickering at the horizon, and this dim light of hope allows for assuming that feminist movement does have its effect on the evolution of women’s status and ole in a family, as well as the image of a woman on the contemporary society. The specified dilemma is also touched upon in Mahfouz’s “The answer is no” (Mahfouz, n. d.), though the latter story addresses the problem on a more general level, displaying the dilemma between keeping emotions bottled inside and compromising oneself in the eyes of the society.

Therefore, it can be argued that each of the novels does not merely represent a specific case or a problem that women face in modern society, but also is a cautionary tale of what may happen once the social boundaries are forced onto people, both men, and women. Seemingly having few to no characteristics in common, the three novels incorporate the same concept of liberation and the need to reconsider the current gender roles.

Admittedly having few eminently similar details in common, the three short novels under analysis still provide similar food for thoughts, as they point at the obvious fact of women being subjugated in modern society and provided with comparatively few opportunities. While the authors of the stories resort to different stylistic choices, as well as tell their stories in different manners and from different perspectives, each of the short novels renders the same idea of oppression having a deplorable effect on the lives of women.

Reference List

Al-Saadawi, N. (2005). The picture. Arab women writers: An anthology of short stories (Suny Series, women writers in transition) (pp. 60–64). New York City, NY: State University of New York.

Al-Uthman, L. (2005). The picture. Arab women writers: An anthology of short stories (Suny Series, women writers in transition) (pp. 73–78). New York City, NY: State University of New York.

Al-Zayyat, L. (2005). The picture. Arab women writers: An anthology of short stories (Suny Series, women writers in transition) (pp. 65–72). New York City, NY: State University of New York.

Mahfouz, N. (n. d.). The answer is no. Web.

Paludi, M. A. (2012). Feminism and women’s rights worldwide. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.




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